UH scholar proud he fought loyalty oath
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
A world-famous scholar of Japanese literature who once was denied employment at the University of Hawai'i because he refused to sign a state loyalty oath returned to the campus yesterday to receive an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters.
Edward George Seidensticker, 80, known for helping bring new, faithful translations of Japanese literature to the English-speaking world, said he likes to be remembered in Hawai'i for stirring voters to strike the loyalty oath law from the state constitution.
Loyalty, Seidensticker said then, is like love: It can be given, but not demanded.
The issue was raised in 1990 when Seidensticker, a retired Columbia University professor, was about to accept Hawai'i's offer of a three-year endowed appointment as a distinguished professor of Japanese cultural history.
When he learned the requirement that all state employees sign a loyalty oath, he refused.
Not that his loyalty was ever questioned. He served four years in the Navy and the Marine Corps during World War II, and in the Marine Corps Reserve for several years after the war.
But he said the oath was demeaning and insulting.
"It assumes there is a possibility or suggestion of disloyalty from (an) employee, and I find that repugnant," he said. Besides, Seidensticker added, such oaths were meaningless because disloyal people would sign them without hesitation.
Then-university president Al Simone sent Seidensticker a letter saying he was not eligible for employment.
Only one other professor had refused to come to the university because of the oath, in 1988. The faculty senate had passed a resolution asking that it be abolished; and the American Civil Liberties Union had been looking into another state employee's objection.
When Seidensticker took his stand, many more stood with him, and the voters soon followed.
The United Public Workers, State Teachers Association and the University's Professional Assembly unions stepped forward and asked the Legislature to kill the oath.
The university professors, noting that the oath stemmed from a law enacted in 1941, when the loyalty of many Hawai'i residents of Japanese ancestry was questioned based on their race and heritage, said the people would be happy to see it stricken.
The Legislature put the matter on the ballot in 1992, "and the people rose up," Seidensticker said yesterday.
The old wording covering "all public officials" was changed to refer only to top state officials and appointees, national guard and law enforcement.
"It's my place in Hawai'i history," the scholar said yesterday.
Seidensticker's place is larger than that, said Interim Chancellor Deane Neubauer at winter commencement ceremonies yesterday.
Seidensticker never earned a doctorate, but he didn't need one, Neubauer said, noting that Stanford, the University of Michigan and Columbia had recruited him to teach because of his expertise and his "magnificent translation of Japanese classics."
Seidensticker also has been generous to UH, serving on graduate student committees and contributing to an award in his name in Japanese studies, Neubauer said.
Seidensticker, known for his translation of literature ranging from the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to the modern novels of Yasunari Kawabata, said he is working on occasional papers and completing his memoirs.